Cable Ties’ Jenny McKechnie: “I’m more confident to live my life according to the values of this band… existing in the world where you fight for the things that you believe in”

Original photo Spike Vincent. Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne band Cable Ties have released a new record, Far Enough. The album is a musical burst of joy while it’s lyrically introspective and vulnerable, reflecting on one’s place in the world. If their explosive debut album were a call to arms full of protest songs, follow up Far Enough is knowing who you are, being OK with that and linking arms on the frontlines of life, standing strong for your beliefs arm-in-arm with your community. We spoke to vocalist-guitarist Jenny McKechnie yesterday as she tried to stop her seven-month-old pup Barry from demolishing all the plant seedlings the household had recently planted in the backyard.

I know that community is very important to Cable Ties, especially the DIY Melbourne music community; when you first came to the music scene, did you know anyone? How did you start to get involved?

JENNY MCKECHNIE: I grew up in Bendigo and I moved to Melbourne for uni when I was nineteen. In uni I met a friend, Grace [Kindellan]. She was really into garage music and we both got into the local scene together and started a band a year later called, Wet Lips. So, just moving to Melbourne about nine years ago and going to The Tote, The Old Bar, got me into it!

How did you start playing guitar?

JM: I started playing guitar when I was twelve, my dad had a nylon string acoustic guitar that I picked up and learnt songs on. When I was a teenager I was in a bunch of bands that were playing Celtic folk music [laughs]. I used to like going to all the folk festivals and writing sweet folk songs on acoustic guitar. When I came to Melbourne I got more into the punk and garage scene; I first picked up the bass to start with and then with Cable Ties moved on to the electric guitar.

With your new record Far Enough, I understand that it came from a place where you were feeling really hopeless.

JM: Yeah, it did. The first record that we wrote is pretty much defiant protest songs. Making the sound we did was really liberating after playing softer folk music, which was all of my songwriting before. By the time we came around to writing this album I was feeling pretty hopeless and despondent about the world and unconvinced that I was able to have a positive impact on anything. I  was coming from a place where I was suffering from anxiety and depression at that time, going through a bit of a spot in my mid-20s where I couldn’t quite work things out and what to do next. In the songwriting process I started in that spot but always wanted to find a way out of it, to find something to cling onto to be hopeful about and keep fighting for.

So writing things songs did help you do that?

JM: Definitely. Songs like “Hope” especially came out of the process of a lot of journaling and a lot of time spent thinking and processing these things. I had a good psychologist too! Some of the songs on the album were really helpful and part of a bigger process that I went through generally about feeling better about myself and the world.

When you posted about the album online you mentioned that it was really challenging to make; in what way?

JM: It was challenging because it was part of that process we just talked about, the album was pretty honest and talks about the things that I was struggling with. A lot of that is turning things in on myself, I was experiencing a lot of self-criticism and a lot of self-hate about stuff like, “oh, you don’t do anything, you just play in a band and wander around playing these protest songs but, what’s the good of it? What have you got to show for it? What’s the point of all of this?” In the process of writing this album I was really doubting myself and really doubting whether I was actually meant to be in a band. I had to come out the other end of it finding some meaning in it—the purpose of my life. By this stage, I’ve dropped out of university postgrad twice, just keeping up with music commitments. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life or if any of this would work out, it was a process!

Why is making music important to you?

JM: That’s a great question. Music is the thing that I just keep coming back to all of the time and from that perspective it’s just something that feels cathartic to me. It’s the only thing that I’ve kept doing in my life, writing songs since I was twelve years old, because it helps me process that way that I’m feeling. It’s something that I can’t get away from, it’s something that I really need. It’s also my entire social community, all of my friends, it’s my entire life! I am so grateful that I have gotten to live out my 20s in this incredible music community in Melbourne. People aren’t just creating really interesting art but they also have a vibrant discussion of political issues and different ways people can live their lives outside of the common norms we’re told. It’s the most nourishing and exciting way to live my life and I’m very thankful that I have done this in the end.

Do you find it hard to open up to write your lyrics and to be so honest?

JM: No, not really. I think that’s one thing that I don’t find that hard. I’m a very earnest songwriter. I find it more hard to not be open and honest about things. Writing songs is the thing I have to do and the challenging thing comes afterwards, I have to put that out there into the world. I have to analyse what I have written down and be like; what does that mean? What is that honesty? And, where do you go from there?

Every member of Cable Ties is integral to your sound; what kind of conversation do you feel you were having musically between one another on the album?

JM: When we write songs we get into a room and someone will have a bass line or a drum beat, we’ll just play and play and play for hours, we really like to jam for a long time. We might not necessarily go many places with the jam, we might just sit in the one spot to see how that feels, and make sure it sits well on your body. That’s where everything starts from. Then we go; what does this song feel like? What is it evoking? The lyrics will come after we’ve written the music and we’ve created a musical emotion as a scaffold to work off. The one thing that we had for this album is that we all committed to doing it; jamming, practising and writing twice a week, and going away for weekend and locking ourselves in. We worked and worked and worked on things until we had it right.

We wrote “Sandcastles” when we went to a house out where Shauna [Boyle; drums] grew up as a kid. We spent the whole weekend trying to put together this song, it didn’t end up making it onto the record, it was not working and a bit convoluted. In the last two and a half hours of the weekend we were frustrated and were like, let’s just have a “hit out”! We started with a simple beat, from there we came up with most of the music for “Sandcastles” in those last hours. We were like, wow! …we felt like we had finally got through the slog of the convoluted song and the payoff was coming up with something simple and to the point.

What inspired the album title, Far Enough?

JM: It’s a lyric at the start of “Hope”. The lyric is: my uncle Pete is complaining about the Greenies, he said that they have gone too far but I say, Pete they don’t go far enough. We took it from that line but we liked it because it is somewhat ambiguous in its meaning. It can have many meanings, it can be a question like; have we gone far enough? Has the world gone too far? We think it spoke to a lot of the questions on the album.

You mentioned that your lyrics came from an introspective, questioning of self and vulnerable place; how did you grow while making the album?

JM: I became a lot more comfortable with being a musician. I became a lot more grateful for the life that I’ve had in the music community. I’m more confident to live my life according to the values of this band and that community and of looking after the people around me—existing in the world where you fight for the things that you believe in. Don’t do stuff because you want the “right” career or anything like that, it made me really, really commit to a life of activism, being in the music community and being a musician.

Photo: Spike Vincent.

On the track “Anger’s Not Enough” it takes over a minute before the drums kick in; what was the idea behind leaving the space at its start?

JM: Nick [Brown; bass] did that at the start. I have this pedal that was made by this guy in Newcastle that has this pedal company called, Beautiful Noise Effects. The pedal is named, When The Sun Explodes. It’s a reverb pedal and a feedback pedal. To make the sound at the start of that song Nick just had all of the pedals on my board on – Overdrive and two boost things that I have and that pedal – he was pressing the buttons on it. That song is quite sonically different to the one that comes before it, we wanted it to sit out on it’s on. By the time it comes in with harsh and loud bass and guitar we wanted people to really be listening after that beginning, that something a little unsettling.

That part gives you a real suspenseful feeling.

JM: Good! That was the idea.

You’ve said that “It’s an album that is supposed to get you out of bed when you don’t feel like you can face it any more”; what helps get you out of bed when life gets overwhelming and you’d rather stay in bed?

JM: My dog, Barry, I’m looking at him right now [laughs]. Apart from the dog, sometimes getting up when you really don’t want to is just putting one foot in front of the other and doing something simple. Some days it’s just get out of bed, make coffee, see what’s next. Often then I’ll see something in my day that I can be thankful for—my friends, the music I have in my life. Those are the things that I live for! They have a really positive influence on me. Also, when things are hard and the world looks like it’s turning to shit, just remember even if you’re an activist and going to protests and doing everything you can and feel like you’re losing the battle, the fight in itself is intrinsically important. The purpose of it is not just to win the battle but fight for the things you believe in, things that you think are important; that’s part of your identity and way of life. Things that can get me out of bed for the day can be different each day.

In the spirit of the album’s main theme; where do you find hope?

JM: Hope on the album is an active emotion, it’s something that you have to find out of necessity to keep going. What gives me hope sometimes is trying to logic my way out of things like, you wake up and there’s another instance of environmental degradation happening and you say, “that’s contributing to climate change and we’re losing this! What the fuck are we going to do? We’re all doomed!” And then just going, it might be true but what good is it for you to be despairing about this, it makes the problem worse and you feel worse as well. Even if you don’t logically think this fight can be won, if you give into that fear then of course it’s never going to be won! Hope for me sometimes comes from a little bit of going, ok this might be hopeless but that’s no good for anyone, so you better believe somewhere that the fight is worth it and you could do something. If you don’t believe it, it never will happen. For me that’s something that I fall back on a lot when I’m in the worst depths of feeling doom and gloom about the world.

What’s your favourite thing about the new record?

JM: I like the conversations that I’ve ended up having about it, they’re so interesting. It is vulnerable… talk about it, face it! The conversations we get to have are personal, interesting and let you connect with other people. My favourite track changes every day but right now it’s “Lani”.

Why that one?

JM: I can really sink into it. You can’t play that track right unless you relax into it. The guitar playing is really emotive and expressive. If I don’t feel those things, the emotions within myself, then I don’t play it properly. Sometimes it’s the scariest song for me to play! When I do it right though, it is so satisfying. It can also really turn around a gig, or when I get on stage and I’m feeling nervous or things aren’t going right.

What are you doing while locked down?

JM: The job I had before I was supposed to go on tour, working for a university, I can do it from working at home. I’m lucky I can still work, and that they took me back after I was “bye! I’m going on tour” [laughs]. Looking after my dog that’s barking at people right now, he’s seven months now so he’s taking up a lot of my time. I’m probably going to go back to uni if I’m being honest, because it’s probably going to be a little while before we get to go anywhere.

Do you write songs all the time or only when you have to write for an album?

JM: Normally I write all the time. I was writing one just before we were leaving for tour. At the moment I’m not playing because after everything that happened with the tour being cancelled – we’d been rehearsing in the lead up to that and doing a lot of playing – after it was cancelled I really felt like I needed a bit of a mental break before I started writing new stuff. I’ve put the guitar down for a few weeks. I’m feeling like picking it up again now. I have a loop pedal now, so the rest of isolation will be me playing with my loop pedal over and over again—I hope my neighbours are ready!

Please checkout: CABLE TIES. CT on Facebook. Far Enough out now via Poison City Records (AUS/ NZ) and Merge Records (Rest Of World).

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